Financial Analyst

What to do when you can’t pay your tax bill

APRIL 2021

Most taxpayers sit down to do their annual tax return, or wait to hear from their tax return preparer, with some degree of trepidation. In most cases taxpayers don’t know until their return is completed what the “bottom line” will be, and it’s usually a case of hoping for the best and fearing the worst.

Most taxpayers are, of course, hoping for a refund — the bigger the better. A lot would be happy to find that at least nothing is owed to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), or that an amount owing is not significant.

The worst-case scenario, for all taxpayers, is to find out that they are faced with a large tax bill and an imminent payment deadline, and that they just don’t have the money to make the required payment by that deadline. For those who don’t have the means to pay a tax bill out of existing resources, that likely means borrowing the needed funds.  And, while that will mean paying interest on the borrowing, the interest cost incurred will likely be less than that which would be levied by the CRA on the unpaid tax bill. 

If a tax bill can’t be paid in full out of either current resources or available credit, the CRA is open to making a payment arrangement with the taxpayer. While, like most creditors, the CRA would rather get paid on time and in full, its ultimate goal is to collect the full amount of taxes owed. Consequently, the CRA provides taxpayers who simply can’t pay their bill for the year on time and in full with the option of paying an amount owed over time, through a payment arrangement.

There are two avenues available to taxpayers who want to propose such a payment arrangement. The first is a call to the CRA’s automated TeleArrangement service at 1-866-256-1147. When making such a call, it is necessary for the taxpayer to provide his or her social insurance number, date of birth, and the amount entered on line 150 of the last tax return for which the taxpayer received a Notice of Assessment. For taxpayers who are up to date on their tax filings, that will be the Notice of Assessment for the return for the 2019 tax year. The TeleArrangement Service is available Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Eastern Time.

Taxpayers who would rather speak directly to a CRA employee can call the Agency’s debt management call centre at 1-888-863-8657, or can complete an online form (available at https://apps.cra-arc.gc.ca/ebci/iesl/showClickToTalkForm.action) requesting a callback from a CRA agent.

The CRA also provides on online tool, in the form of a Payment arrangement calculator (available at Payment Arrangement Calculator — Canada.ca), which allows the taxpayer to calculate different payment proposals, depending on his or her circumstances). That calculator includes interest charges since, no matter what payment arrangement is made, the CRA levies interest charges on any amount of tax owed for the 2020 tax year which is not paid on or before April 30, 2021. Interest charges levied by the CRA tend to add up quickly, for two reasons. First, the interest charged by the CRA on outstanding tax amounts is, by law, higher than current commercial rates — the rate charged from April 1 to June 30, 2021 is 5%. Second, interest charges levied by the CRA are compounded daily, meaning that each day interest is levied on the previous day’s interest charges. It is for these reasons that a taxpayer is, where at all possible, likely better off arranging private borrowing in order to pay any taxes owing by the April 30 deadline.

This year, there is one exception to the usual rules with respect to interest charges levied on late or insufficient tax payments. During 2020, millions of Canadian taxpayers applied for and received pandemic-related benefits. And, although those benefits represent taxable income to the recipients, no tax was deducted from the payments when they were made. Consequently, many benefit recipients will be facing a larger than expected tax bill when they complete their return for 2020. And, given the continuing economic and employment fallout from the pandemic, it’s likely that many of them will be unable to pay those taxes on time and in full. In recognition of that fact, the CRA has indicated that it will be providing relief from the resulting interest charges in the form of a one-year interest holiday. Specifically, taxpayers who received pandemic-related benefits during 2020 and whose income for that year was $75,000 or less, will not have to pay any interest charges on 2020 tax amounts owed until May 1, 2022. More information on the interest relief program can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/services/taxes/income-tax/personal-income-tax/covid19-taxes/interest-relief.html.

Finally, regardless of the taxpayer’s circumstances, there is one strategy which is a bad one. Taxpayers who can’t pay their tax bill by the deadline sometimes conclude that there is no point in filing if payment can’t be made. Those taxpayers are wrong. Where an amount of tax is owed and the return isn’t filed on time, there is an immediate tax penalty imposed of 5% of the outstanding tax amount — and interest charges start accruing on that penalty amount (as well as on the outstanding tax balance) immediately. For each month that the return isn’t filed, a further penalty of 1% of the outstanding tax amount is charged, to a maximum of 12 months. Higher penalty amounts are charged, for a longer period, where the taxpayer has incurred a late-filing penalty within the past three years. In a worst-case scenario, the total penalty charges can be 50% of the tax amount owed — and that doesn’t count the compound interest which is levied on all penalty amounts, as well as on all unpaid taxes. In all cases, no matter what the circumstances, the right answer is to file one’s tax return on time. This year, for most taxpayers, that means filing on or before Friday April 30, 2021. For self-employed taxpayers (and their spouses) the filing deadline is Tuesday June 15, 2021. However, for all taxpayers, the payment deadline for all 2020 income tax owed is Friday April 30, 2021.

Detailed information on the options available to taxpayers who can’t pay their taxes on time and in full can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/individuals/topics/about-your-tax-return/making-payments-individuals/paying-your-taxes-owing.html#toc2.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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Paying the taxman – when and how

APRIL 2021

Our tax system is, for the most part, a mystery to individual Canadians. The rules surrounding income tax are complicated and it can seem that for every rule there is an equal number of exceptions or qualifications. There is, however, one rule which applies to every individual taxpayer in Canada, regardless of location, income, or circumstances, and of which most Canadians are aware. That rule is that income tax owed for a year must be paid, in full, on or before April 30 of the following year. This year, that means that individual income taxes owed for 2020 must be remitted to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on or before Friday April 30, 2021. No exceptions and, absent extraordinary circumstances, no extensions.

It is very much in the CRA’s interest to make paying taxes as simple and as straightforward as it can be and so the Agency offers individual taxpayers a wide range of choices when it comes making that payment. There are, in fact, no fewer than eight separate options available to individual residents of Canada in paying their taxes for the 2020 tax year. The first five options outlined below involve payment by electronic means, while the last three describe those available to taxpayers who would prefer to make their payments in person, or by sending a cheque to the CRA.

Pay using online banking

Millions of Canadians transact most or all of their banking using the online services of their particular financial institution. The list of financial institutions through which a payment can be made to the CRA is a lengthy one (available at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/about-canada-revenue-agency-cra/pay-online-banking.html), and includes all of Canada’s major banks and credit unions.

The specific steps involved in making that payment will differ slightly for each financial institution, depending on how their online payment systems are configured. What’s important to remember is that the nature of the payment (i.e. current year tax return, as distinct from current year tax instalment payments) must be specified, and the taxpayer’s social insurance number must be provided, in order to ensure that the payment is credited to the correct account, for the correct taxation year.

It is not necessary to access any particular CRA form in order to make an online payment of taxes through one’s financial institution.

Using the CRA’s My Payment

The CRA also provides an online payment service called My Payment. There is no fee charged for the service, and it’s not necessary to be registered for any of the CRA’s other online services in order to use My Payment.

What is necessary is that the taxpayer have a debit card with a VISA Debit, Debit MasterCard, or Interac logo from a participating Canadian financial institution, as My Payment is set up to accept payment using only those cards. Anyone intending to use My Payment should also confirm that the amount of any payment to be made is within the daily or weekly transaction limits imposed by the particular financial institution.

A list of participating financial institutions for each type of card, and more details on this payment method can be found at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/e-services/payment-save-time-pay-online.html.

Payment by credit card, PayPal, or Interac e-transfer

While it’s possible to pay one’s taxes using a credit card, PayPal, or Interac e-transfer, such payments can only be made through third-party service providers (that is, payments by those methods cannot be made directly to the CRA), and such third party service providers will impose a fee for the service.

There are only two such service providers — Pay Simply and Plastique — listed on the CRA website, and links to each such service are available at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/about-canada-revenue-agency-cra/pay-credit-card.html.

Payment through a service provider

There are a number of third-party service providers which will accept payments and remit them on the taxpayer’s behalf to the CRA. However, the majority of such services are more oriented toward providing services to businesses, and most of those listed on the CRA website do not handle payments of individual income tax amounts owed.

The full listing of third-party service providers, and the types of payments they handle, can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/about-canada-revenue-agency-cra/pay-a-service-provider.html.

Payment by pre-authorized debit

It’s possible to set up a pre-authorized debit (PAD) arrangement with the CRA, authorizing them to debit the account for an amount of taxes owed, on dates specified by the taxpayer.

Individuals who make instalment payments of tax throughout the year may already have such an arrangement in place and can certainly use that existing arrangement to arrange a PAD of any balance of taxes owed for the 2020 tax year. However, any such arrangement must be made at least five business days before the payment due date of April 30. A taxpayer who makes a payment of taxes only once a year is likely better off using another of the available payment methods.

There is also another option for taxpayers who have their return prepared and E-FILED by an authorized electronic filer. Such taxpayers can have that E-FILER set up a PAD agreement on their behalf in order to make a “one-time” payment for a current year tax amount owed. Such an arrangement is only for the payment of a current-year tax balance, and can’t be used for other payments like instalment payments of tax. Details on how to set up a pre-authorized debit arrangement, whether for a single payment or for recurring payments, are outlined on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/about-canada-revenue-agency-cra/pay-authorized-debit.html.

Paying in person at your financial institution

For those who don’t use online banking, or simply prefer to make a payment in person, it’s possible to pay a tax amount owed at the bank. Doing so, however, requires that the taxpayer have a specific remittance form.

If the taxpayer has not received the required remittance from the CRA, it is possible to download and print that form from the CRA website. Instructions on how to do so can be found on that website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/forms-publications/request-payment-forms-remittance-vouchers.html.

Paying at a Canada Post outlet

All Canada Post outlets can receive payments of individual income tax balances owed, in cash or by debit card. Once again, however, it is necessary to have a specific form to do so.

In this case, the taxpayer must have a QR code which contains the information needed for the CRA to credit the amount paid to the taxpayer’s account.

While a QR code is sometimes included on remittance forms sent to the taxpayer by the CRA, it’s also possible to generate a QR code online, through the CRA website. The link to do so can be found on that website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/corporate/about-canada-revenue-agency-cra/pay-canada-post.html.

Paying by cheque

While it’s not common anymore, it’s still possible to pay any tax balance owed on filing by cheque, as outlined on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/about-canada-revenue-agency-cra/pay-cheque.html.

Such cheques are made payable to the Receiver-General of Canada, and are mailed, together with the required remittance form, to the CRA, using the address found on the back of the payment remittance form. As is the case with payments made at a financial institution, the taxpayer can print such a remittance form from the CRA’s website. Instructions on how to do so can be found at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/forms-publications/request-payment-forms-remittance-vouchers.html.

The CRA also suggests that, where payment of taxes owing is made by cheque, the taxpayer should include his or her social insurance number on the memo line found on the front of the cheque. Doing so will help ensure that the payment is credited to the correct account.

It’s important for all taxpayers to realize that, whatever form of payment is used, the payment deadline of April 30 requires that the CRA receive payment by that date. The CRA considers that a payment has been made only when it actually receives that payment, or the payment is received by a member of the Canadian Payments Association (which would include most Canadian financial institutions).

The majority of payment options now available to Canadians involve online transactions or the use of third party service providers. Both such methods can mean some delay in receipt of the payment by the CRA, as a result of the time required for processing of the payment by the financial institution or third party. Consequently, taxpayers who make their tax payments online or using a third party service provider are well advised to consider that time lag in deciding when to make their payment – waiting until April 30, especially late in the day, to do so  isn’t a good idea.

Those who make their payment in person at a financial institution (using a remittance form, as outlined above) can make their payment on April 30, as the date stamped on the remittance form is considered to be the date on which such payment is received by the CRA.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.